Very Shy 4 Year Old, What Can I Do?

Updated on April 21, 2010
M.B. asks from Colorado Springs, CO
20 answers

My 4 year old son is very shy. He has an older brother who is almost 7 who is an extrovert and always very loud and outgoing, he has a 2 yr old little sister who everyone is always saying "is so cute". He's the middle child and I worry about him. He has many great qualitiies, he's an excellent listener, and very caring, and the friends he has he treats very well.. But he is very shy. If an adult he does not know speaks to him he just smiles and hides his face. He won't even answer. He uses his siblings as his security blanket when he's in a social situation that makes him uncomfortable. I signed him up for mommy and me gymnastics and he did really well once he warmed up to the teacher AND as long as I was there. I signed him up for tball and he cried and clinged to me. He starts preschool next year and I worry about him. He's never done anything alone without his siblings. What can I do to help him before then?

What can I do next?

  • Add your own comment
  • Ask your own question
  • Join the Mamapedia community
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Thank you for reminding me to spend one-on-one time with him. That has definitely been something that hasn't happened much. I feel horribly about it. His personality is so easy going he does get lost in the shuffle from time to time.

More Answers



answers from Fort Walton Beach on

Read this:

Some of the best quotes are:

"Many shy children have a solid self-concept. They have an inner peace that shines; if the extroverts would be quiet long enough they would notice its glow."

"Shyness is a personality trait, not a fault. Some of the nicest people I've ever known are shy. These persons tend to be attentive listeners, private people who exude a welcome presence even without saying a word."

"Hug your quiet child. The world will be a more gentle place because of him or her."

"Never label a child "shy." On hearing this a child feels something's wrong with her, and this will make her feel more shy."

8 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

My son at 4 was also somewhat shy. One of the best things I found for him was a theater program for kids, based on multiple intelligences theory. The best thing about multiple intelligences is that they try to hit on 3 or 4 of multiple intelligences every class -- that means every kid in the class excels at something. Plus, the theater class drew him out and made him speak up in front of the other kids in a very kind way. The first few weeks, he would sit under a table at the beginning of class, but the end of the three month class, he was having a great time. I know this program was rather unique to my area, but perhaps there is something along that line in Colorado Springs. By the way, I was labeled as extremely shy as a child and I struggled with it a lot even into my professional life. Between 25 and 30 years old, I came to the realization, with the help of a friend, that there was nothing wrong with me, it's just a personality trait. Now, I will tell people that I have the tendency to be quiet and introverted, but I am not shy. The strength of the introverted personality is that you think and understand before you speak. It might take longer for people to understand the treasure your son is because he doesn't speak out immediately, but when they realize the weight of thought behind everything he says, they will value what he says more. The key is to give him confidence early that he can handle any situation even though he might have an introverted personality (that's why theater is a good option) and then he will have the strength to overlook the culture that tends to penalize "shyness."

4 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

My son is in first grade this year, and although his personality has always been "shy" he has really come out of his shell this year. Friends, playdates and sports I think, have really helped.
That said, his basic personality is (and has always been) independent, quiet, introspective and thoughtful. I have a strong personality and am very social. My husband always reminds me that this world needs ALL kinds of personalities to go 'round...and he's right!
Let your little one be himself, encourage his friendships and interests and he'll be just fine.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Most important thing you can do is accept him for who he is. Introverts are not always shy or lacking in a strong personality as some have suggested. They process the world differently, and they often have fewer but more intense, closer connections with people. Introverts get depleted by too much interaction in the outside world and need internal and alone time to re-energize. Your son may just be going through a "shy" period or he may be a true introvert. Accept him and make sure the other siblings don't overwhelm him. Let him have a voice, even if it is a quieter one. He will find his way.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Indianapolis on

Our son is very shy, too. He's definitely a follower, not a stronger personality that leads other kids in activities. My husband and I both have strong personalities (mine is the more dominant), and we embrace that our son is a different personality and try to encourage him as much as possible to be himself (he is 3.5 years).

I think all you can do is to continue to be acutely aware of him being the middle child, having a different personality, and making sure he doesn't get lost in the shuffle.

My only recommendation of what you can do differently than what you're doing now is to make sure you're out of the picture in some of the activities. We've been fortunate that our son has been in day care the past 2 years and has had exposure to different social situations in our absence and has had to work through them on his own. As much as I applaud you for engaging him in gymnastics and T-ball, your presence there may be his safety net.

He sounds like a wonderful child, and I hope he'll be very comfortable in his own skin as a different personality from his siblings. One thing we're trying to make a concerted effort to do is to have individual time with each of our children - one-on-one time with Mom and then Dad separately. We want to let them pick the activities and really get to know them for the individuals they are.

Good luck. It sounds like you're a wonderful mom to all 3 of your kids.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Minneapolis on

my son is also very like this, what has helped us get "through the rough times" like starting a new and unfamiliar activity was actually the book called "the kissing hand" so when he gets nervous being dropped off, he asks for a kiss on his hand, that way he feels i'm always there with him-- he just holds "the kiss" to his cheek or squeezes it when he wants to hide. It hasn't changed his personality at all (i didn't want that to happen, obviously) but it has given him one more "coping" mechanism, which was really what he needed

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I'm an introvert and a mom to an introverted 5 year old and an outgoing 4 year old. Of the two, it's actually the 4 year old I can't understand! LOL!
You've gotten some great suggestions, just try to remember that his personality is not an "issue" or a "problem" it's just the way he is. Don't ever try to force him to be who he isn't. You've noticed that he's fine once he warms up to a situation and that will help. With time, he'll learn those "social skills" that some kids seem born knowing. He will probably never feel completely comfortable making small talk or shaking the hand of someone he's just met, but he will learn to go through the motions until he actually is comfortable. Just keeping modeling behavior for him and talk to him about how he feels. Make sure he knows that it's ok to feel shy and that will help. Considering the extroverted children in your family, he probably feels like the odd man out.
My heart goes out to him because I *remember* what it's like and I see it in my 5 year old every day. Yes, childhood will be a bit more difficult for him (our society really doesn't accomodate introverts well) but he will be ok.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

You have much good advice here. Remember that shyness is NOT a disease. Many of us moms out here were (and are) shy, too. I affirm the recommendation of Elaine Aron's book, The Highly Sensitive Person. Enormously helpful. My very, very shy little girl is now a confident and accomplished 27 year old!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Detroit on

Be there... Allow him to be himself... :-)

Our 2nd (5yr old boy) is the same way... He really did not speak at all till he was almost 4 and then not to anyone but me, hubby, or siblings...

And then Kindergarten started. We told the teacher all about how shy he was and oh, how we worried... Would he talk to the teacher? To the other kids?

Well, since starting school guess which little boy has been getting notes sent home about his talking about every other week... :-) Apparently he is talking TOO much. lol He has MANY friends at school and Has really come out of his protective shell since he's not hooked to us all the time...

Give him alone time... Even if its just the two of you going grocery shopping together or running to the gas station.... Thats not so much for the shyness, but the middle child thing. :-)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Saginaw on

What your describing fits my 4 year old daughter to the T. I could go on and on about my daughter but I'll just share these couple things....

I highly recommend the book "The Highly Sensitive Child" by Elaine Aron or even check out her website they have a list of questions to determine whether your child might fit the personality

The best part about the book is after you read it, there is a yahoo group you can join to talk to many other parents dealing with the same problems.

If anything the book might give you some ideas on working with your son.

For what its worth because I know I haven't told you much about my daughter, my daughter started preschool this past fall. I dreaded it. I knew it would be good for her but feared it would be a LONG time until she came around. I really researched teachers and talked with one that I felt really comfortable with. To my surprise it only took 1 week of crying. Although, it took almost 3 months before she really started participating. And she still is working on things daily, but for the most part really enjoys going to school.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

aw sweet boy. sounds like mine. if mine was the middle child instead of an only i'd be right where you are. and i am a very shy person myself. i think you're doing what you need to, trying to get him used to social situations as much as you can. other than that just love on him and give him all the patience and support you can. he'll be okay. it sounds like you give him one-on-one time with you which is awesome and so important. great job mom!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I think you've gotten some great responses. Just wanted to add one thing (as a mother of at least one highly sensitive child...): since reading the book by Elaine Aaron (which another mom suggested to you also) i have observed a little closer what our son actually might be feeling/thinking whenever i would label him as "shy". Turns out that he often is less afraid than i think, and just wants to observe closely. Instead of thinking he feels afraid and bad, i now often just back off a little and let him be, and i sense that he feels ok, actually may enjoy himself, and is not so much afraid at all. There is always so much gong on in his little mind, and he may be concentrating on something entirely different than waht i (and others) may imagine. I have come to dread people saying: "You don't have to be shy..." etc, since that label now has a wrong taste. I have also notced that others who have "shy children" as well are far more likely to accept who he is, and therefore he will take less time to "warm up" than when someone insists he should be as outgoing as the other kids, and won't stp trying to entice him to join an activity. By now, those people get on my nerves, and i remember now how i wanted to hide when i encountered them as a kid.
Good luck!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Shreveport on

I would agree with Cindy. But he may be too young to diagnose. My 5 year old daughter as has selective mutism. She behaved normally in our home and her familiar atmosphere. When we would go out she would give people bad looks or just hide her face and hold on tight to me. People still try and talk to her and they say " Does the cat have your tongue?" or just say "she is really shy". I know she is dying inside and gets really angry, Because she is not stupid by far. It is very frustrating! I hope he doesn't have selective mutism but its not something to ignore.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

Hi M. b,

Your boy may have an edge of hypersensitivity....we have found our family has a major thread of it and understanding it makes a giant difference in ability to tolerate and understand and empathize his position.

A book written by Elaine Aron helped us enormously: The Highly Sensitive Person. It might give you a broader understanding of what he is experiencing.

Good luck,


1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

My daughter was also shy at that age. When her preschool teacher came to our house to visit before school started, Katherine hid under the bed! The teacher went in and sat on the floor near the bed and described the fun things they were going to get to do and how many nice kids would be there. Katherine walked in and was fine from the very first day! Today, she is in management with a well known arts organization in Washington, DC. A happily married newlywed! When people would label her as shy (happened quite a bit), I just said "No, she isn't shy, she just likes to take a few minutes to warm up to a new person or situation and she is warming up faster and faster these days!" Enjoy your kids, they will grow up WAY too fast!!!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

You have some great responses here so I'm sure you are feeling more at ease. My daughter was incredibly shy at that age, she would do the same thing - pretty much ignore adults if they spoke to her. I remember when she was 5 and about to being Kindergarten giving her a little coaching on the subject and explaining that now she was getting a bit bigger, some people might mistake her for being rude if she ignored them. I told her "if someone says hi to you, all you have to do is smile and say hi back. If someone says 'how are you?' just smile and say 'fine thanks' and that's all you need to say" and we would practice it and she did great. She is nine now and still rather introverted because that is just her sweet nature, but she's doing fine and everyone likes her because of her sweet quietness.
Your little boy will be just fine and preschool is a whole different set up to kiddie sports like tball. It is a safer, more comforting atmosphere and even if the first few days are a little rough, everything will be ok. (I used to be a preschool teacher and if a child came into my classroom upset in the morning, they were never still upset by the time the parents came for pick-up).
L. P

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Santa Fe on

This sounds just like my daughter who was diagnosed with selective mutism and social phobia when she was 5 and just entering Kindergarten (she's 10 now ans has improved, but not yet cured). Go go for more information, diagnostic criteria, support and resources.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

Some neat responses here and I love the quotes below. As a therapist, I wouldn't want him to see my concern. He may be feeding off your reactions. It is clear you are a dedicated parent and he is fortunate to have a caring you. As you and your other children happen to be engaged in some activity and others are involved too, welcome him in. If he shys away, that is ok. Continue to play and show him it is sae and everyone is enjoying themselves. Try to let him be; he may just come around after a few such experiences.

He may be picking up angst from somewhere within the family or community that has lead him to feel uncomfortable. Even one small interaction from the past might have lead him to the thought/fear around others he does not know.

When it does come time for preschool, maybe we can connect with a peer or two (you may know of someone in the neighborhood that may also be starting) to connect with or have the teacher help with making that first friend. Good luck! S. A. K., MFT

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Denver on

Let him be. He is who he is and you need to embrace that. Being shy is also a bit of an age thing. All three of my kids went through a shy stage around 3 to 5 and they are fine. One thing you can do to encourage him is always show excitement for what he is about to do and talk about how great it will be to hear about the fun time after. It will probably be a month or two before dropping him off at preschool before he is comfortable but he will get there. Just stay consistent and don't let him know you are worried or bothered by his behavior. This will only make his shyness worse.

Good luck!



answers from Kansas City on

He could come out of it.But if you notice anything else out of the ordinary I would talk to his pediatrician.We are in the same boat right now!Although with my 4 year old son he is the youngest and he does not talk to anyone outside of our home and only has 2 friends.One at church and one cousin and he will not play with or talk to any other children.We had a similar experience with gymnastics,he loves being active but can not get over his fear of being around new people so we had to pull him out =( And we tried soccer last year and he sat and picked the grass,he didn't even attempt to play.I am not suggesting this in any way,however our Son is going to be evaluated for an actual social disorder.I took him to the pediatrician about a month ago and she definately agrees with me that his shyness is to the extreme so between that and some non-age appropritae behaviors we are taking him to Children's mercy behavioral clinic to have him evaluated before school starts!I NEVER thought anything like this before I visited with his Doc!He is a very bright child!And here's the thing,you know your child!Is this something you and him can work through?Or do you need help?

Next question: Shyness and Anti-social Behaviors in 2 Year Old